Constructing my hackable classroom – Part 1 #ThisIsMyClassroom


In late 2015 I had the opportunity to sit down and design a classroom environment suited to Computer Science students. After surveying my students and getting lots of ideas (including one which resembled a living-room with C shaped sofa – tempting, I’ll admit) for what they consider would be their optimal learning environment I let the ideas stew while over in London in January for the Apple Leadership event and BETT 2016.

My interest in flexible learning environments roll way back to my time at Inverurie Academy when I worked in an open plan floor of six classrooms. I posted my first #ThisIsMyClassroom blog in May 2011 as a way of recording the changes to my classroom environment. Even at this time I was asking students about how they would like their learning environments to be arranged and remember the 3D walkthrough videos created by a great S3 class. It was truly excellent work that culminated in a video conference with Anna Rossvoll, who was at that time creating her own flexible learning environment at Hill of Banchory school in Aberdeenshire. I’ll try and find these videos and upload some of them.

Since the launch of the Raspberry Pi Computer Science teachers have had the ever-increasing opportunity to embed low-cost working models in their classrooms. While at Robert Gordon’s College I set up a separate Raspberry Pi lab (imaginatively titled PiLab) but when we moved to new classrooms in 2015 integrated the Raspberry Pis into my Computing classroom and made them part of the curriculum rather than an extra-curricular club.

I also used my experience from attending the PiCademy in Cambridge to investigate how Raspberry Pi might be used to allow students to access previously static areas of the classroom environment and bring them to life.

Perhaps the final piece of the inspiration puzzle came when I visited OnHouse Milano during last session. While primarily a showcase design home I had a great discussion with their programmers on how they use themes and scenarios to integrate a number of systems. This gave me the idea of creating Python API wrappers that allow the students to move easily access a number of hackable devices in the same program. These libraries could then easily be imported into a student’s programming environment and let them, for example, take the colour sensed by a Raspberry Pi camera and mimic it in the Phillips Hue lighting system.

I still want to keep the same classroom environment ethos as I introduce more (relatively low cost) interactive technology to the classroom – the students connect more by displaying their work. So areas of the room are set aside ready for student posters which can then be augmented using Aurasma, CodeBug projects can be displayed in a gallery area around the LAUNCH posters, the robotics created by students in extra curricular clubs are always on display. It does sound like I’m looking forward to the room becoming a slightly updated version of Eduardo Paolozzi’s studio

At this point the desks are in, the screen is in a more suitable position so that all students can view, the double whiteboards are up and the power provision in the classroom has been enhanced. There are also elements of the hackable classroom in place and the students will begin to use these as part of their lessons in the coming weeks and months



I had a lot of fun experimenting with the subroutines and Python Turtle methods yesterday but wanted to push it a little further and find out if I could make use of a new Python library to help create automated art.

Somehow I’ve never built a program that utilises and analyses audio before, so challenged myself to find out more about libraries such as PyAudio and Wave this afternoon. My daughter was practising piano in the other room so it gave me a push to integrate live audio into my solution, rather than rely on pre-recorded wav files.

I learned about numpy a little this afternoon too. I hadn’t realised it had functions to extract the frequency from an audio block (FFT). The more I explore Python, the more I fall in love with it as a language!

Once I’d successfully extracted numeric frequencies from the 5 second wave file into a list I looped through them and attempted to place shapes on the Python Turtle screen to correlate with the current frequency. I decided on a simple X axis plot to begin with but then, as I realised the range between min and max frequencies usually exceeded 8000 I introduced a scale factor so they could be seen on the screen together and adjusted the Y axis so that each frequency appeared bottom to top in the order of analysis.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 18.18.40

Quite nice, but there’s a lot of white space where the unused frequency range lies. Instead of removing this range from the visualisation (which, in retrospect, might have been a good idea) I decided to attempt to create ghosts of the circles fading out as they get further from the original position. This led me into colorsys and all sorts of bother, reminding me (eventually) not to mess with anything that returns a Tuple until I convert it back to a List first. Anyway, I removed that part of the code and put my arty effects on the back burner. You can see one example of the mess below. Ugh.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 18.19.00

I decided to alter the colour of the background this time too. I think I’d like to use some audio analysis to decide on the colour range in a future version so that low audio frequencies create darker images and high frequencies create bright, bubblegum pop images.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 18.06.42

The last thing I added to the program was the option to use pre-recorded audio WAV files instead of always recording 5 seconds of audio. This was very easy to add as I’d modularised the code as I went, so all that was needed was a few lines extra in the main program:

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 19.08.33

Trying out the program with a few WAV files from or playing a YouTube video in the background resulted in the following images:

uptown funk
uptown funk

Python files can be found at Github – Feel free to fork the code, leave comments below or just enjoy the images it generates!

Inspiration from “The ON House” Milano #thisismyclassroom

I was lucky enough to find out about this house through a parent of the school and visited it today. The ON House has been created by Simontech to demonstrate the various home and office automation products that they sell and how they can be integrated together via an overarching web app.

As you might remember from previous blog posts I am gathering inspiration, student wish lists and researching classroom design in order to develop a classroom with a clear Computer Science identity and purpose. In short I want a classroom that can be customised to suit particular learning and teaching tasks but also become integrated into the lessons I teach.

I plan to take some of my students there so they can also gain an insight into what is possible with current technology. What I particularly liked about The ON House was that the technology was not obvious or overwhelming however the integration of the technology made the house more accessible and customisable.

During the visit I thought about how some of the technology could be integrated into a Computer Science classroom. For example the ambient lighting presets could be used to indicate and suit different learning activities. Programmable colour changing LEDs in the ceiling or floor could also be accessed directly by students in their programming lessons. I think there would have to be a way of allowing access to these lights during lesson so that my classroom did not become a disco when a student got home!

The ability to change the machines that were displayed on the short throw projector via an app would also be very useful in class. At my previous school a custom SMART panel was used to switch sources which meant that any changes required software updates from the company. It also meant that if the panel broke – it cost a lot to fix it and rendered the AV unit useless. Multi-platform applications that perform the same function as a custom panel would, I think, allow changes in the future to be made much more easily. Also replacing an android tablet or iPad mini would be much cheaper than a custom SMART panel.

Simontech also explained that access levels can be set within their system and I think that this could be fantastic for lesson preparation. If you have the lighting, AV, etc. set appropriately for a particular task or topic you can quickly save this as a preset at the end of a lesson and recall that preset the next time the class comes in leaving you free to start the lesson without fiddling with the technology.

There were other interesting components built into The ON House including electric privacy glass. On returning to school I trawled YouTube for a while and found a great short video showing this in action.

In the video you can see that when the glass is set to white you can project on the surface and, if you think it’s useful, add a touch screen too. This could allow you to open out a classroom with few windows so that more natural light was let in and also function as a display space.

Another aspect they discussed was security. In their kitchen demo they showed that their app could prevent doors into other rooms as well as individual cupboards and drawers from opening depending on the preset.

I have linked a few videos and articles about the ON house below so you can find out more about it. If you are in the Milan area and would like to visit it you can send an email to or phone +39 02 40043548.

Clean slate classroom: What would you do?


I’m thinking about classroom design this evening.

My current classroom is suitable for any subject area – as long as there are less than 12 students. I’m considering how to make it stand out as a Computer Science and STEM classroom while still retaining practicality and space to move!

I’ve thought about my movement in the current classroom, what irritates me about current organisation that -if changed- will have a positive impact on my classes, my desire to amalgamate the classroom and STEM club (currently two floors apart) and how the room should be primarily a place for students to learn, but also a place that promotes the subject to visitors.

The current STEM room has desktop monitors that I have moved into the classroom in the past (two floors apart remember?). These dominate the layout and take up a lot of space when not being used so I am interested in trialling some HDMIPi screens which can be stored away when not in use.

I also want it to be a fun environment where students can interact or change some of the elements. Ideas for this include an interactive electronics wall where elements can be added or removed to change how it works, multi coloured dry erase vinyl stickers that can be placed on walls and desks, and easy access computing kits that are in magnetic containers stuck to a themed wall. I want to maximise what students can do in lessons while minimising the daily prep required to get the room ready and then reset.

Not included in the sketches are alternative seating or the location of the tall benches.

Nothing is to scale. Comments and suggestions would be lovely!


#thisismyclassroom June 2013


At the end of April our S2 students began a group games design task. I used the poster above as a guide to get them started but the desired outcome was an A2 poster containing:

  • An overview of the game plot
  • A description of each of the main characters – heroes and villains
  • A clear plan for how the game character(s) will be controlled
  • A description or sketch of the backgrounds and/or audio


The S2 classes did a fantastic job and some even began to create prototype versions using Scratch. Yesterday I cleared out the display at the back of my classroom and put up a selection of some of the best games design posters.




Next session I’m going to begin to use the window space for short-term displays relating to solo taxonomy as well as try to extend the washing line display across my room.

This Is My Classroom – August 2012

The return to school coincided with the first consecutive days of sunshine I’d experienced since Slovenia. At the end of last term I had decided to replace the orange monolith (which had previously been full of a colleague’s resources and simply served as a display board) and mini stage with another computer workstation, primarily to be used by learners to record and edit video off the network.

The monolith has gone!

I was overjoyed to see the space released by removing these two items. Now I had a large display area between whiteboard and door as well as space (and power) for a small desk in the future. This display space is the most prominent in the entire room so I wanted to make its contents stand out as well as be accessible to my learners to allow them to evolve the content and take responsibility for recording their class’s development. I intend to try SOLO taxonomy with a number of my classes this session and have put up a few items to get started with thanks to the inspiration of Tait Coles, Darren Mead and Pam Hook.

Learning Wall

I also wanted to increase my visibility to learners and other educators so I’ve taken the simple step of putting my timetable on the door. This is nothing spectacular as I remember my university lecturers doing the same but hope that this will reduce unnecessary email asking where I am hiding!

Before the end of last session I also began to investigate recommended reading lists for learners. Not necessarily textbooks but non fiction (and fiction hopefully!) that are related to the field of Computing Science and ICT. I plan to liaise with the school librarian to ensure copies are available or put on the wish list for the future.

Also to enhance learner engagement with the wider community I intend to put up a list of computing-related events going on the local area. I also want to make further use of the digital frame in the corridor to display pupil work, thought process and reflection.

By removing a few items of furniture I’m hoping to enable my learners to interact with the classroom environment rather than be served by it which, on reflection, is how I approached my classroom design last year. And while I mean interact in the most low-tech way possible, the newly rejuvinated gyromouse and Promethean tablet may help in their own way too.

This Is My Classroom – August 2011

When I first took photographs of my classroom at Inverurie Academy in May it was meant as a way of recording how the displays changed each year and to help me reflect on how pupils could be better catered for. I had just finished a month long project with two S3 classes looking at classroom design and what would, in their opinion, make them happy and more enthusiastic about learning and the great dialogue my classes had with me and educators outside of the school gave me impetus to at least look further into some of their ideas – as well as ideas of my own – and to make a few changes.

Well, just before taking those photos I had sent off an application form and CV for a Teacher of Computing vacancy with a private school in Aberdeen. Within two weeks of taking those photos, I had accepted the job and handed in my resignation. It was pretty amazing how quickly everything moved and, at the end of June, I began to pack my old classroom away.

Today I began my new post and as I have been lucky enough to have been allocated my own room took a few photos to help me as I plan how best to use the space.

The new classroom is bigger but again the furniture is fixed in place. There is storage space above some of the computers which can double as displays. There is a lot of natural light – which I like – but also a lot more screen glare – which I don’t like.

The seating in the middle of the classroom is very nice with plenty of space for each pupil but promotes individual not than group work. The ceilings are very high which may allow for “washing lines” of work or something similar to be put in place well underneath the lights, appeasing the gods of health and safety. All in all, a very promising space to work in.

It does need a little bit of colour to cheer it up though! Think I’ll start with that back wall and the cupboards!

My next blog post on this topic will concentrate on some of the ideas I intend to try out to make my classroom as good a learning environment as possible. If you are in the process of creating, or have completed a great learning space for your pupils or workers please post a link to your blog / photos below as I’d love to see examples of other teacher’s work!

This Is My Classroom, May 2011

It’s May and the certificate classes are on study leave. This is a time to catch up, reflect and plan for the coming session. One of the things I want to do is keep a visual record of my classroom as it changes (and share it with other educators for advice or feedback). I think it would be great if we could get a few teachers uploading images of their teaching environments and reflecting on how it affects pupil learning so, with that in mind, I’ll start!

If you are interested in joining in. Here’s some guidelines I’ve quickly come up with to maximise the dialogue:

  • Post the images of your class – I’ve taken photos of my desk, the view from the back of the room and the display areas.
  • Post a link to your site in this blog and I’ll be happy to comment!
  • You have free reign to comment on my post. See something you don’t agree with, or don’t understand? Feel free to ask! I might be missing something or might have something useful to share!